Sunscreen Guide: Everything You Need to Know About SPF

S.O.S (Save Our Skin)

This post is all about the best sunscreen to buy and all about SPF. This post contains affiliate links at no extra cost to you.

Sunscreen guide

While we should be wearing sunscreen year-round, the summer is when we find ourselves frequently outdoors for hours and hours at a time.

So it’s super important that I –as your skincare BFF– remind you about the importance of slathering on the protections with this comprehensive sunscreen guide. Whether you have acne-prone skin, oily skin, sensitive skin, rosacea, or other skin conditions, it’s still very important that you apply sunscreen.

ALSO READ: What to Pack On Your Next Summer Vacation

We’re diving into all things SPF (Sun Protection Factor) to break down the ingredients you should be looking for and how much sunscreen you should be wearing. Daily!

We’ll also discuss the differences between chemical and physical sunscreen including what ingredients you should be looking for.

The main reason we need sunscreen is to block UVA and UVB rays emitted by the sun’s rays. And let’s face it, you can’t escape the sun. Unless you’re hiding in your basement, you will be exposed to UV rays either through your car window or even on those cloudy days.

How Does Sunscreen Work?

According to Yale Scientific, sunscreen protection works by blocking UV rays through a combo of physical and chemical ingredients. The physical protectors, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide reflect UV radiation from the skin. While chemical sunscreens absorb the rays and release the energy as heat.

When shopping for sun protection, you’ll want to look into a combination of both physical and chemical sunscreens. Many sunscreens on the market only protect against UVB rays. However, research has suggested that it’s UVA rays that penetrate deep into the skin and cause aging and even cancer.

What’s The Difference Between UVA and UVB?

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation is the energy released by the sun. Being out in the sun without the necessary and sufficient protection allows UV rays to penetrate your skin, ultimately altering the DNA of your cells. So along with premature aging, your altered cells may lead to skin cancer.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, two types of UV light are proven to contribute to the risk for skin cancer:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength and is associated with skin aging.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength and is associated with skin burning.

Damage from UV exposure may accumulate over time making you more prone to skin cancers. So if you were a sun-worshipping goddess in your teens, it’s crucial that you take sun protection seriously.

What To Look For In A Sunscreen

There are so many variations of sun protection on the market today. And you may be asking, “What’s the best sunscreen to wear?” From creams, lotions, and mousses to sprays and powders, it can all be a little overwhelming.

The first thing you’ll want to consider is the level of SPF. I tend to choose a broad spectrum SPF 50.

My most-loved sun block to wear daily is EltaMD. The EltaMD UV Sheer sunscreen is thin and wears well under my makeup.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, the SPF number tells you how long it takes the sun’s UV radiation to redden the skin when you use the sunscreen *as directed* versus not applying any sun protection at all.

For example, an SPF 50 means it would take 50 times longer for you to burn than if you had skipped sunscreen altogether. You should reapply sunscreen every 50-80 minutes.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

But even the best sun protection is not 100% guaranteed that you will not suffer any UVA or UVB radiation so it’s important that you follow additional precautions when heading outdoors.

Here are five ways to protect your skin when outdoors

  • Wear a wide-brim hat and UV-blocking sunglasses
  • Avoid being out in the sun during peak hours – between 10 am and 4 pm
  • Reapply sun protection every 2 hours
  • Protect your skin with light layers of clothing
  • Seek shade when possible

Chemical versus Physical Sunscreen

Finding a great sunscreen can be so confusing. There are so many choices. and we always hear so much conflicting information.

Mineral? Natural? Chemical versus physical sunscreen? What’s the best sunscreen to wear?

It really comes down to preference. If you’re looking for a physical sunscreen, you’ll want to look at the ingredients and search for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These minerals work by sitting on top of your skin and deflecting the sun’s UV rays.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreens are also known to be coral and reef safe as well as biodegradable.

The cons of physical sunscreen are that they tend to be a bit heavy and are prone to rubbing off when you sweat. You’ll want to make sure you’re reapplying often. The plus side is they work as soon as you apply them to the skin.

Physical sunscreens may also leave a white cast or white residue on darker skin tones. However, there are a lot of brands offering tinted sunscreens which may help.

PRO TIP: To avoid a white cast, opt for a tinted face sunscreen to make it easier to blend into your skin.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate.

According to this article on The Environmental Worker’s Group website, the European Commission published preliminary opinions on the safety of three organic UV filters, oxybenzone, homosalate, and octocrylene.

They are usually a thinner consistency than their physical counterparts. This makes it the best sun protection for the face for many people. I, however, prefer physical sunscreen for my face.

The concern is that because these chemicals are absorbed into the skin, they may be linked to hormone disruption.

Sunscreen guide chemical sunscreen versus physical sunscreen
Print this sunscreen chart

They also take about 20 minutes to start working from the time of application, so you’ll want to apply for a while before going outdoors. Chemical sunscreens may also be to blame for coral bleaching which impacts marine life.

However, chemical sunscreens are usually waterproof and sweatproof. You will still want to make sure you are reapplying every 2 hours. They are also thinner, making them ideal for everyday use and worn under makeup.

How Much Sunscreen Do I Need To Apply?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should be applying 1 oz., or about a shot glass, to your entire body. This includes arms, legs, and torso. Don’t forget to apply it to the tops of your feet, the back of your hands, and your ears.

For your face, you should aim to apply about 1 teaspoon of sunscreen. This should be applied all over, including your eyelids, neck, and ears.

An area that frequently gets overlooked is your scalp. If you part your hair, you’ll want to apply sunscreen to the exposed scalp. OR, you could wear a hat. But, I did want to share the information because I too have suffered from a burned scalp *OUCH* (more about hair SPF below)

Types of Sunscreen Product Applicators

While we may be more familiar with lotions and creams, there are an array of applicators that will help you get that much-needed SPF.

One thing you do need to remember is that not all applicators are created equal. The best sunscreen is the one that is applied to the skin, meaning, sprays and powders may not be the ideal applicator if you want to guarantee the required application amount to satisfy the SPF rating on your bottle.

It’s hard to gauge whether you’re getting enough sunscreen when it’s being sprayed from an aerosol can. It is the reason I no longer buy sunscreen sprays.

Think about it — when you’re at the beach and you spray, what happens? On a windy beach day, your sunscreen is going to blow away.

PRO TIP: When applying spray-on sunscreens, spray directly on your hand and proceed to applying on the skin to keep it from blowing away.

Best sunscreen makeup

There are also cosmetics with SPF labels on the packaging. Chances are you are not applying near the amount required to satisfy that SPF rating. That is why I like to start with a layer of sunscreen on top of my SPF-infused makeup.

Everyone should be using sun protection. Having oily skin, I omitted this step for years to avoid the shiny, oily feeling. Sunscreens have come a long way. And also, seeing the effects of poor sun protection in my 20s is starting to show.

I use an oil-free sunscreen as it pairs well with most of my makeup. This is THE most important step in my morning skin care.

I also like to use powder SPF to reapply my protection throughout the day. Again, these shouldn’t be used as your only form of sun protection, but they are great for reapplication and added protection.

best Sunscreen for Hair and Scalp

The sun can really damage your hair. Dryness, frizziness, and even color fading can all result from sun damage. If you invested in fresh balayage this summer, it’s a good idea to stock up on hair sun protection.

You’ll also need scalp sunscreen if you part your hair. The sun can burn any exposed skin and the top of our heads is frequently overlooked.

While wearing a hat is always recommended, you’ll still want to get the added protection for your strands. I recently purchased this powdered sunscreen for my scalp. No one wants to rub sunscreen lotion in their hair so this is a great idea.

Just poof on your exposed scalp where you part your hair and brush. It also acts as a dry shampoo soaking up excess oil and sweat — win, win!

I hope you found this guide useful and please share it with all of your sun-worshipping friends and family. We can definitely enjoy a nice day at the beach or pool, but it’s extremely important to take the necessary sun-safety precautions.

My favorite sunscreen has got to be the Elta MD UV sheer. It’s sheer enough to wear alone but also wears well with my makeup. What’s your go-to sunscreen at the moment? Let me know in the comments below.

This post was all about the best sunscreen and what you need to know about SPF.

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